Opposing teams are carving up the Lakers’ defense, but it’s not splintering the group. The Lakers losses are piling up, entering tonight’s designated road game against the Clippers (25-13) tonight at Staples Center with a 14-22 record, a 13th place standing in the Western Conference and dropping nine of their past 10 games. But the Lakers aren’t piling on each other.
When it’s all over, such an attitude may not really make a difference in avoiding the Lakers missing the playoffs for only the sixth time in franchise history. But with a season already looking dour with long-term injuries to Kobe Bryant (fractured left knee, torn left Achilles tendon), Steve Nash (nerve issues in back), Steve Blake (hyperextended right elbow) and Jordan Farmar (torn left hamstring), the Lakers’ situation could’ve morphed from depressing toward toxic. But the Lakers have avoided the blame game thus far.
“There’s no point in finger pointing because no one wants to hear it,” Lakers guard Jodie Meeks said. “The guys we have out there right now is what we have. We have to try to find the way to win with the guys we have.”
Granted, not everything has gone completely smoothly.
Pau Gasol and coach Mike D’Antoni have sniped at each other over the big man’s offensive role and effort level. Gasol fielded criticism even within the Lakers for not playing through an upper respiratory infection. Chris Kaman has remained honest about his frustration falling out of the rotation this season.
But unlike last season, those issues have mostly simmered down. Gasol has since avoided complaining about his role. D’Antoni publicly stood up for the criticism Gasol received when he didn’t play. Kaman has still remained professional and respectful toward D’Antoni despite the lack of playing time.
Everywhere else, the Lakers have embraced the concept toward team building.
“We have had really good chemistry with teams here that were together and on the same page. That’s how you win championships,” Gasol said. “This team, despite the adversity we have faced so far, we’re staying together. It’s key for us to go forward and give ourselves opportunities to win games.”
That’s why D’Antoni took a rare approach in scheduling a practice on Thursday after playing a pair of back-to-back road games in Dallas and Houston. Normally, D’Antoni gives the team a day off in those circumstances to clear the players’ minds and bodies. But he changed his approach that had nothing to do with wanting to pummel his team for losing so much.
“It’s a good time to come in and get treatment and watch film and gather ourselves a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “We don’t want to get fragmented. I don’t think we will. But we have to keep our spirits up and keep our head up and do the best we can do. I think the guys understand that.”
The Lakers also understand the tough card they’re dealt, ranging from the never-ending injuries, a competitive Western Conference and a brutal January schedule that entails a 11-day, seven-game trip.
That prompted D’Antoni to ease the tension with some humor.
“I’ve figured it out,” D’Antoni joked. “The national anthem is really jinxing us. Every time they play it, we don’t play well.”
But this isn’t a team in disarray. Far from it. The Lakers field a team full of free agents next season with only Bryant, Nash, Robert Sacre and Nick Young under contract. Yet, selfish motives haven’t creeped in yet.
“It goes back to the character we have on the team,” Lakers forward Wesley Johnson said. “Everybody has a good personality and a good upbeat heart. We have to hold each other accountable and let it out on the floor. Everybody does that and knows when they makes mistake,s including myself. I watch the film and go from there. But no one points the finger. They just say they want you to be better.”
There’s plenty of areas the Lakers need improvement.
The Lakers rank 25th out of 30 teams in turnovers (25.5) and last in fast-break points allowed (17.8), which D’Antoni cited as “the number one factor why we’re losing.” The Lakers rank 28th in total defense (104.6 points allowed). Oh yeah, the Lakers also are without four true point guards, leaving Kendall Marshall to run the show a mere two weeks after toiling in the Development League.
But the Lakers aren’t hanging their heads.
“Theres no point feeling sorry for ourselves. The rest of the league doesn’t,” Meeks said. “All we can do is come in with a good attitude, find a way to win games. The effort is there. We have to find a way to win.”
That part hasn’t happened a lot, but the Lakers remain determined that their own competitive pride will soon stop the bleeding even before their injury-plagued roster becomes healthier.
“We know if we correct certain things and do things better, we give ourselves a better chance to win and be successful,” Gasol said. “We’re short handed. But that’s the reality. We can’t change that. But what we can do is show attitude, togetherness and effort. Everybody has a good sense of humor and trying to stay positive as much as possible. It’s easy to go off the deep end. But everybody is staying positive. That helps us stay in a good light.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org